Coming to America
I was just a few weeks old in America and already bored with staying at home. So, a friend took me to the KFC at the junction of New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road on the outskirt of Washington DC for a temporary job.
I met two Nigerians there, Scala and Olu. Scala, from Imo State, was a shift supervisor. A brightly coloured easy-going lady who made hard work looked like a piece of cake. Even under stress, she stayed her cool and good self.
Gangling Olu was from Lagos state. He was the king of jokes who slid around the store delivering customer orders like an ice hockey player.
I was also introduced to Ben and Lawrence from Ghana. Both were shift supervisors. Rather reserved but all the same got along well with everyone. There was also Maria the sneaky, gossipy lady from Jamaica.
A couple of African Americans, amongst whom were Candice and Thomas Sweatt also worked there. Candice was the complainer-in-chief, who brought her home troubles to the work place. When not complaining, she hardly talked about anything else but buried herself in her work. And there was Thomas Sweatt, a fair complexioned, soft spoken, sweet and charming fellow. Always meticulously dressed and very dedicated to his work. He had a slight sense of humour with a constant smile on his face but spoke very little. He was the chicken man.
I bonded with all of them very quickly but more so with my fellow Nigerians with whom I had a lot of fun, sharing jokes and laughing ourselves silly while working.
Everyone looked forward to being at work with the “crew” as we called ourselves.
However, one of the crew members mentioned above was soon going to be revealed as, perhaps, America’s most prolific and psychotic arsonist. Who could it be?
A million ways to die in America.
One thing that awed me both back then and even now is the nature of crimes in America. It is unlike anywhere else under the sun.
I often wondered what in the world would drive the people of a such a beautiful country to commit horrific crimes despite the harsh (harshest in the world) punishment they get when convicted.
A Rash of Arson fires
Because reports of gruesome crimes were daily and routine in the evening news, you almost took them as a regular part of life. You did not live in fear as such. You just went about your life without any gripping concern that you might be a victim until you become one.
Fire incidents were common in the Washington DC Metropolitan region which comprised the capital, the states of Maryland, Virginia and a part of West Virginia. There was hardly any day, you would not hear the sound of fire trucks hurtling down to some place within and around the country’s capital. In most cases, if the fires were as a result of arson, investigations will quickly or much later lead to the perpetrators, who are then arrested and prosecuted.
A unique pattern emerged
But there was a string of arsons that were either ruled as accidents or no one knew for sure what happened for a long time until a clear pattern emerged in a few of them. The fires were set with a piece of cloth tied around a four-litre jug filled with gasoline and left in the porch of apartments. The DC police out of curiosity ran the pattern of the fires on their database and discovered over twenty such fires. Investigators knew right away that they were dealing with a serial arsonist who must be taken out of the streets immediately.
A suspect emerges
In one of the five fires set over a period of four weeks, part of the cloth used was unburnt. Investigators were able to extract DNA from it. But when they ran it through the national criminal database there was no hit.
In another incident, three young me came back home from a club to find a man sitting on their porch. The man rambled over why he was sitting there and left. On the porch was a gallon of gas and a piece of cloth in a black plastic bag. Inside that package, investigators saw a single piece of hair from which DNA was successfully extracted. That DNA matched the one from the unburnt cloth in a previous fire. For the first time, a composite picture of the suspect emerged from the descriptions provided by the young men who encountered the suspect.
The final nail came when after another fire incident, a piece of discarded navy pant with gasoline smell on it was found by the roadside down the street not far from the scene of the fire. After extracting DNA from it, investigators speculated that the suspect might be a naval officer.
That led investigators to a navy barrack in the nearby state of Maryland. Behold, navy officials revealed that an arsonist had been setting fire on cars parked in a parking lot used in the base. A search of video feeds after one of the fire incidents led navy investigators to the owner of a car seen leaving the scene. They tracked the owner of that car but could not bring up charges due to insufficient evidence.
However, Federal investigators took on the lead and Lordy, the person of interest was………….
to be continued tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Washington DC was in a lock down.